Many women think their diet needs to change when pregnant, but that’s not entirely true. Yes, the nutrients your body needs during pregnancy change when you’re with child, but the ideal time to start making these changes is before you start trying to get pregnant.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, roughly 1 in 6 couples experience infertility. I’ve seen greater conception success in couples who prioritize their health before trying to conceive (TTC). When your body is healthy and is provided with the essential nutrients it needs, many couples have an easier time getting pregnant and experience a healthier pregnancy.
Today, we’re going to look at the role nutrition and nutrients play in your pre-pregnancy planning, and explore the specific nutrients that women and men need to prepare for conception.
Why diet is important when TTC
The best time to take a close look at your diet is before you start trying to conceive. Not only can it help you get pregnant faster, but it also lowers the baby’s risk of birth defects and the mom’s risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.
Your pre-conception diet and nutrition plan should ideally begin anywhere from three months to a year before planning to conceive. This gives your body time to absorb the nutrients and prepare a woman’s body for healthy ovulation and egg implantation.
Because every woman’s body is different, the exact recommendations for specific nutrients may differ slightly. The suggestions we share here are the general recommendations for most healthy adults. Always consult a nutritionist to get a customized nutritional plan for you.
In the meantime, here are four key health and nutritional tips for preconception:
1. Maintain a healthy body weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight, as directed by your healthcare professional, can make getting pregnant easier. Throughout your pregnancy, you should follow the nutritional directions of your healthcare provider who will ensure that you’re getting the right nutrients in your body.
Women with a high BMI often experience abnormal or irregular ovulation. Overweight women also experience more trouble with in-vitro fertilization.
Talk to your nutritionist and healthcare team about a healthy weight and BMI for your body type and work towards maintaining that bodyweight in the months leading to conception.
2. Get enough calcium
Calcium is essential for the mom’s body and her baby. If the mom’s body is low on calcium, her body will take calcium from her bones to give to the developing baby. This leaves mom at risk of developing brittle bones. Thankfully, calcium from natural sources is easy and enjoyable to get.
Indicators of low calcium may include:
Confusion and memory loss
Muscle spasms and cramps
Numbness and tingling in your extremities
Recommendation: Women of childbearing age should take 1,000 - 1,500 mg of calcium per day. This is the equivalent of three to four 8-oz glasses of milk. You can also enjoy it from low-fat yogurt, canned salmon and fish, rice, and cheese. Natural sources of calcium are best, but you can top up with a prenatal supplement if directed by your healthcare provider.
If you take calcium carbonate supplements, be sure to take them with food for optimum absorption. Calcium citrate, on the other hand, can be taken alone.
3. Monitor your iron intake
Iron is responsible for moving much-needed oxygen around your body and to the baby in your womb. Too little iron in the mom’s body could contribute to underweight or premature babies. You will likely get a blood test to check your iron levels when TTC and throughout your pregnancy.
Indicators of low iron may include:
Recommendation: Before becoming pregnant, get about 18 mg of iron per day from natural or supplement sources. Once you get pregnant, boost that to 27 mg per day. Iron-rich food sources include fortified cereals, lean meats, and spinach.
4. Be conscious of your folic acid (folate) intake
Folic acid is an essential B vitamin for women of childbearing age. It supports your body to generate healthy cells during your baby’s time in the womb and minimizes risk of miscarriage.
It is a water-soluble vitamin, so your body will expel anything it doesn’t currently need, which is why regular supplementation with this important vitamin is critical before and during pregnancy.
Indicators of folate deficiency may include:
Depression and memory problems
Recommendation: Take 400-600 mcg of folic acid per day from natural sources and supplement when needed. It is found naturally in leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals, oranges, strawberries, beans, and nuts.
Other nutritional tips when you’re TTC
Here are some other dietary and nutritional tips for when you’re trying to conceive:
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Minimize refined sugars
Practice good food preparation hygiene
Don’t skip meals
Cut back on caffeine
Limit or eliminate alcohol
Nutritional tips for the Dads
Did you know that approximately 30% of all fertility problems can be traced back to the man (compared to 29% in women)? This is why it’s so crucial for the dads-to-be to take a closer look at their lifestyle and nutrition with their partners.
Men trying to conceive with their partner should also focus on eating a healthy and well-balanced diet. This includes whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and organic fruit and vegetables.
In addition, men should also pay close attention to the nutrients and minerals they’re getting, including:
Zinc and Selenium: These support sperm health and mobility.
Vitamin D: There are some indications that vitamin D can also support sperm mobility.
Folate (Vitamin B9): A folate supplement is generally not needed for men, but they can up their natural intake of this vitamin to help with healthy sperm production.
Antioxidants: Men with diets high in antioxidants often create higher-quality sperm.
Some of my male clients ask if they need to cut out caffeine and alcohol from their diets like their partners, and I usually tell them that’s not a key factor affecting a man’s fertility. Although, they’re welcome to abstain from caffeine and alcohol in solidarity with their partner if they wish!
When are you planning to get pregnant?
If you and your partner are planning to get pregnant anytime in the next three months to a year, now is the time to take a close look at your diet and lifestyle and start making healthier choices that will support your body’s ability to conceive a child.
I’m here to help advise you on the best vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need in your diet to prepare your body for pregnancy. Book a consultation today, and we’ll create your nutritional plan together.